Some Thoughts on the Walrus Response

Here is a response to Jeremy Keehn (Senior Editor at the Walrus) thoughtful response to my post The Walrus, Fair Dealing, and the Culture of Journalism this morning.

A few leading points.

1) I’d like to echo Jeremy’s request, if there is a literary-loving Web 2.0 billionaire out there interested in endowing the Walrus, please click here.

2) While my original post refers to The Walrus, I definitely want to be clear – the challenge of not participating in the online link economy is endemic among main stream media publishers generally. Most main stream media never link away from their site (except, oddly, on their “blogs” which are somehow treated differently…)

At the risk of misrepresenting Jeremy (not my intention) I’m going to edit his piece down so as to respond to some specific arguments as to why the Walrus doesn’t link or cite in print. Worse still, I may make a suggestion or two.

First, in print:

It was more a question of how including that information would affect the flow of the narrative, and what readers needed to know for the quotation to have its intended effect. Insofar as I was making a conscious decision as an editor, I would have been asking myself whether mentioning eaves.ca bolstered the authority of the quotation or added narrative value. Ultimately, I concluded that David’s credentials were all readers needed to know. In hindsight, I might have chosen otherwise, in part because the quotation wasn’t a spoken one, and in part because this is a rare instance where the source actually ended up caring.

This I completely get. It is important that the piece read easily. Reading this I see how much the web has changed how I read – I look for “links” now even when reading a print edition of something. (Wow it is hard to have this discussion without sounding ungrateful for the quote – hoping that is still coming through – this is a discussion about the culture of journalism as it plays at out that Walrus, not about the quality or intentions of the Walrus)

Online linking:

David also asks in his post why The Walrus hasn’t linked to his blog in the online version of the story. “When The Walrus doesn’t link to others, it is a policy decision,” he writes. “They believe in the myth that they need to keep people on their website — which means they also believe in keeping their readers away from the very material that makes their stories interesting.”

I (guiltily) jumped to a conclusion there – should have led with more inquiry. Jeremy explains that this is because:

We don’t go in and insert links into our magazine pieces because we don’t have the resources, and because the decisions about what and where to link would be difficult and time-consuming to navigate, especially given that we rely on freelance writers, who might have opinions about what should be linked to or not. It’s certainly not policy.

However, this is where things become a little harder for me to decipher.

On the one hand the no-linking at the Walrus seems to be due to limited resources (this I understand and respect). However, tracking down and inserting the links into my blog for the webpages the Walrus piece references took me 45 minutes – and that was without the benefit of having the author on hand who mostly likely has them in their notes. An intern could find and insert the links into a piece in 30 minutes. This may still be too onerous but the benefit to readers feels significant. But this calculus becomes even easier if the Walrus simply asked authors to supply the links (the task would then drop to mere minutes). Moreover, the costs of consistency feel pretty low. People are unlikely to be upset of The Walrus over linking… they’ll just not click on them. Plus, The Walrus’s authors probably have the best sense of what is interesting and should be linked to… why not simply trust them?

On the other hand, the above sentence hints that the no-linking is also due to the fact that getting a clear consistent policy would be difficult – especially with so many freelance writers in play. I read this as saying that The Walrus is claiming it is better off not linking than having potentially inconsistent linking. Why not start simple with bare bones policy: Every time The Walrus quotes someone, and that quotation is available from an original source online, the author should endeavor to link to it. The great thing about being online is different than print. Omissions are easy and quick to fix. If the author misses some link, an intrepid reader may email The Walrus the link (especially if you ask them to) at which point an intern could add it.

There are advantages to this. Over time, by looking at The Walrus’s web stats the editorial staff will see what their readers click on, and so what they find useful and be sure to include more of those types of links in the future. The value add for readers might become significant, At the moment, the Walrus has no idea what its readers find interesting in the pieces they read other than what they say in comments (and far, far fewer people comment than click on links they like).

Finally, this should be applauded but is not a defense:

We do plenty of linking on our blogs, and the magazine’s Twitter feed (not to mention my own) is generally abuzz with links to and from other media.

Two thoughts: First what is the policy around linking on The Walrus blogs? And providing links in Twitter is great (I do like how The Walrus twitter account points to interesting pieces everywhere). The point here is that (online) readers have a world to explore in every article The Walrus publishes – if they are given a chance to explore it through hyperlinks – hyperlinks that are embedded in the text where their mice and eyes are at the moment of reading.

9 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on the Walrus Response

  1. David Humphrey

    This is a big issue for me. I've written about it in the past several times (see http://vocamus.net/dave/?p=795 and http://vocamus.net/dave/?p=331). I need to reflect on yours and Jeremy's posts before commenting further (I'm a lover of the Walrus too, so it's harder to simply dismiss them). However, one thing that strikes me is that there are technical solutions to the problems presented here. If the print versions are written with a basic markup, links could be stripped out automatically for print, and then left in for web presentation. As you note, these links are known to the authors who use the material in the first place. So something like:[http://link.to/something said So and So]becomessaid So and SoThis is trivial to implement. Maybe the Walrus, if it needs help due to limited resources, should allow its readers and fans to engage with the process and help them get this done. There are a lot of literary-journalism Web 2.0 folks reading it, even if we aren't billionaires. Dave

    Reply
  2. Matthew McKinnon

    Actually, the print versions of Walrus stories are chock full of markup language, and it's a fairly intensive process to convert them for web use. I don't consider the job trivial, and am thankful to have an intern on hand to assist. Yes, we could spend 30-45 minutes finding and adding links to a single piece — but there are fourteen articles on our newest issue's table of contents, written by fourteen authors (and handled by five editors) who would each need to be consulted about the content of our suggested links. You can see how the time adds up.As an occasional freelance writer and friend of other freelance writers, I can assure you that the level of tech savvy varies wildly among the subspecies: you'd be surprised how many of them don't use the Google too well. Others might argue that writing to professional magazine standards is challenge enough on its own.Walrusmagazine.com does not have a formal policy on linking blog posts, although it will as soon as I find time to revise its contributors' guidelines. Meanwhile, I typically ask bloggers to submit a link for any/every statement that might prompt readers to click away to a search engine for more information. For example, a recent item about climate change (http://www.walrusmagazine.com/blogs/2009/12/10/when-co...) included links to, among other things, the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, a Unesco summary of the world's freshwater crisis, Wikipedia pages for peak oil and the Kyoto Protocol, and a post about “Climategate” from thenation.com.I stand by Jeremy's post, which is surely more thoughtful than this one. We're all readers here too, and understand the call to add similar links to web versions of our magazine content. I updated “The Dark Country” with a “related link” to David's original post earlier today, and will discuss repeating that process with Jeremy and other the editors here for future stories to come.Best,Matthew McKinnonOnline editor, walrusmagazine.com

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  4. jeremyvernon

    To reiterate what David H was getting at: This is still a technical problem. It shouldn't take ANY resources (aside from a handful of clock cycles and a quick read-over) to remove mark-up (links included) from the text of articles, it should be a push-button operation. What software is powering the Walrus' editorial process? I hope it's not just Outlook, Office, WordPress and InDesign.Moreover, link addition/approval can and should be handed over to the freelance writers. A simple solution akin to GooseGrade (used on this blog) could provide an avenue for robust user-driven “linkification”, without trodding on the toes of writers or using up interns and/or editors' time.Generating related links is also something that can be automated (yet curated) – have a look at Reuters' Calais or similar services. Finally, comments in the comment section should include blog articles written in response – pingbacks are built-in with WordPress.

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  5. JDrolet

    It is a bit scary for us old geasers to go over a sea of links, maybe even slightly annoying: following a link can be frustrating since links are not only about sources. They can sublime into definitions, in-depth analysis, nice collaterals, etc. Of course, the tool is extremely powerful and valuable but there is something about parsimony that might help to keep the reader. In other words, limiting oneself to the valuable I think is bound to show some advantages (Not to say that these rules are not followed here: I particularly liked the dead link you give in your analysis of the Dark country)

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  7. linxiao

    Ugg Australia has recruited designers like Manolo Blahnik, Carlos Falchi, Rebecca Minkoff, Rafe pictured,and more to design high-end versions of the brand's trademark boots for its seventh annual Art & Sole auction.I have to assume these will be filed under unaffordable (which is good – more money for St. Jude!), but I'll still be going to the pickyouruggs.com Web site on December 1 to window shop and see what these designers have cooked up.I am trying to picture what I would do to make these high end… Real Italian leather? A pearl brooch? Other expensive ingredients and sparkles? Maybe the differences won't be that extreme, but I hope each designer puts his personal touch on the shoe. I'm certain at the very least you'll be able to pick out which Uggs came from Betsey Johnson (ugg boots classic tall, please!).The event is likely to inspire as many interesting Ugg knockoffs as there are regular Ugg knockoffs, so it is possible we'll see something like this around town next year. It's not only a great event for charity but probably also a good move to keep Uggs alive and relevant… especially with the number of people who'd like to see them disappear for good!UGG boots on sale!I will of course keep wearing my Uggs because A) I have them and B) they are warm, but if your kid asks Santa for Where the Wild Things Are UGG boots… I feel for ya.

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  8. Eli

    How about a list of quoted and/or related web sources at the close of online articles? Hyperlinks distract and pander to lily-dipping readers who can't sit through long-format pieces without links to photos, videos, etc.

    Reply
  9. Eli

    How about a list of quoted and/or related web sources at the close of online articles? Hyperlinks distract and pander to lily-dipping readers who can't sit through long-format pieces without links to photos, videos, etc.

    Reply

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